Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

BooksAugust 6, 2021

The Friday Poem: RED FLOWER // RED FLAG, by Ruby Solly

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A new poem from poet and musician Ruby Solly.


Ko Rata te ikoa o tōku tīpuna
a man who had to chop down a tree over and over again
while every night the birds would pick up the pieces
and restore the tree chink by chink
as we do each night within our own four walls for our babies
We tell them where they come from
We tell them that they are mokopuna of Rata
That they must fight the same fight every day
only to have the world change back over night

But unlike Rata,
we will not learn to ask permission
for we are not on foreign lands
We are held here in the palm of history
see how the soil swells red from last century

Rata is the name of a vine also
A ground born rope on a quest to murder the host
often mistaken for the red blood of our ancestors
evaporated to flowers
that bloom as tohu
in the good old kiwi summertime
a theory we test each year
hei puawai, hei puapua
hei puawai, hei puapua

So here we are walking backwards
but listening to our tīpuna sing of the future
sing songs of place names, of types of stone
their augmented                     rhythm            broken
into      boxes               and      bars
by the sounds of you back to back with us
kicking down doors,
and ripping down Rata
thinking they were Pohutukawa all along

And all the doors you kicked in
never brought you an expert
in the-word-that-shall-not-be-named
even though asking us to hold all of that knowledge
is asking us to know the whole world
asking us not only to know where the streams hide under the cities
but asking us to able to pull them out from underground
without disturbing a single brick

Then you request our thanks
In the language you prefer us in
while we mutter under our breath
in ours:

i ō mātou reo
ēra kā tākata o kā roroiti

If I am not a scientist
then I am a witch!
I chant a magic carpet over us both…
E rite? Ka mau!

And now we are in a dark room
where I show you what we are made of
from the darkness, to the potential of something within
to what you may call the ‘big bang’
but we know as te ao mārama

I take you with me
all the way through
creation and the separation
and the ice ages, and the evolutionary stages
of kauri and tohorā who now live far apart
I take you through
the integrated system of the world
within a being
to us being the way we are now
Eyes full of clouds,
skin of earth at risk of drying and cracking
and these two minds that we possess
These twins: Hine- the daughter in the front
And Ngaro the hidden daughter, the subconscious mind.
Best believe that both of them know Māori as it truly is
the natural, the normal, the make up of all things
To be descended from Māori
Is to be descended from science
so don’t you ever
call my whakapapa
nothing but terra nullius
Now in the void I send you back
to the spark of existence
to soak yourself in nothing
but the power of black


The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are currently closed and will open again later this year.

Ruby Solly will appear at three events at the Word Christchurch Festival; the first is a musical performance on Friday 27 August. 

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books, recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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